Eaten Alive!

The article is slightly horrific, so I’ll illustrate it with many lovely pictures to show why it was still worth going to the island. Probably.

You may be wondering why I didn’t post for several days there, pretty much the whole time I was on the island in fact. Mainly it was because we were virtually camping – having to saw and chop our wood, tend fires, cook, do all the washing by hand, and of course keep various kids amused without the aid of television. A camping holiday is pretty much like other holidays, except that you spend all your time working.

But even when I did have a moment, I couldn’t concentrate. My joke in poor taste had come back to bite me. It is true that mosquitoes are the most dangerous animal in Africa, in that they’re responsible for vastly more deaths than the big predators we usually worry about. They do it by spreading the deadly malaria parasite though. The big ones they have in Finland nearly did for me all by themselves.

They’re having their worst summer for mosquitoes on record. A country, remember, that is almost entirely composed of lakes and forests; they know mosquitoes. But they’d never seen them like this. A few more days camping and I would’ve been drained, a skeleton in a skin sack. The little bastards love me.

Unfortunately it’s not mutual. I react to mosquito bites – drastically, allergically. The site of the snacking reddens and swells. One on my forearm looked like a biceps that’d migrated south. My ankles went missing, and I’m still covered with blotches that look like a livid form of dry rot.

And Christ Christ Christ the itching. The itching! Maddening, excruciating, almost literally unbearable. If itching is a sort of tickling sensation, this was like being tickled by a psychopath with a darning needle. Am I succeeding in conveying that this was really quite unpleasant? And all the worse because I was trying like hell not to scratch. I’d had a mosquito bite become infected once, and needed an emergency injection of antibiotics. I didn’t want that to happen while camping on an island.

I thought my immune system would get used to it, but instead the more I was bitten the worse my reaction got. And, it seemed, the more I was bitten. Perhaps they could tell I was in trouble. The struggle became personal and bitter. I sat in the dark while the others slept, waiting for the tell-tale whine. The walls of the cottage were soon spattered with their blood. Wait, my blood.

What else could I do to prevent the bites? Nothing, it seemed. A citronella wristband might have been helping until it ran out – either that or I was just lucky the first day. Tea tree oil didn’t seem to repel them either, even when applied thickly enough to repel people. Though I sprayed literally every inch of my skin with Autan before going to bed, I was still eaten as I slept.

And nothing cured the itching either. I tried two antihistamines, two different analgesics (aspirin and ibuprofen), a hydrocortisone cream, a tripelennamine hydrochloride stick, and tea tree oil. None of them provided anything you could even dishonestly describe as relief.

Only one thing made the itching go away. It worked instantly, its effects lasted for hours, it was actually downright pleasant to apply. It’s available without prescription – in fact you can’t buy it in any pharmacy or  health food shop. And fortunately, it’s abundant in Finland.

What is this miracle cute for itching? Heat. Simple heat. Preferably as a powerful jet of water. On the island we didn’t have a shower – in fact we had no plumbing other than a cold tap – but we did have a sauna! Plus a wood-fired boiler with gallons of the stuff. I poured it on with a ladle, Japanese bath style, hot as I was able to stand – which seemed to be about 2°C short of first-degree burns. The heat actually intensifies the itching – in the same way that scratching does, but even more so. Like it was making all the itching that was due in the next few hours happen at once, getting it over with. The relief was… How can I put this politely? Think of the thing that gives you the greatest, the most sudden and complete, feeling of relief.

Yes, exactly. A strangely, intensely sensual experience. It was almost worth the itching to feel that release. Almost. For the first time in my life, I understand sadomasochism.

Finland – it’s the tropical paradise for people who like their tropical paradises with less heat. And indeed, three months of snow.

Tip Of The Week

Ochlerotatus notoscriptus, Tasmania, Australia
You Little Bastard

An insect bit me last night. You should have seen it, it was about four feet long. OK, four inches long. Well half an inch. But those are the worst. Just a little biting fly, but I actually felt it. I assume this means that by fly standards it had huge fangs. The reaction seems to bear that out: A swelling the size of an egg.

F*** I hope it’s not an egg.

I’m always reluctant to take antihistamines. I know the immune system is a learning entity, almost an animal in itself, and I worry – perhaps unreasonably – that drugs may interfere with learning. What if they’re like its cigarettes, calming it down for now only to leave it more irritable after? Nevertheless I took one (Piriton). I knew this bite was going to be a bad’un.

I also managed to dig out the insect bite cream (Anthisan; I know this is beginning to sound like product placement, but I want to be precise about what did – and didn’t – work), which seems to have been finding new pockets of my bag to hide in ever since the walk in Clare. Then I flooded the house with fly spray (Raid…). That little bastard was not going to get me while I was sleeping, I didn’t want to wake up looking like bubble wrap.

Due perhaps to side effects of the first-generation antihistamine I slept soundly, waking at one in the afternoon in a state of mild panic. As a way to stimulate myself into action I’d set a very unfinished version of the last blog post to be published automatically at 1:30. (If you look at the URL you can see the article was originally titled “I’m Asleep”.) So if it sounds like it was written in a rush, you know why.

Written in a rush, by a man suffering intense irritation all down one arm. While I was asleep the itching had kicked into insane-making gear. Though the swelling was only in the slashy part of the wrist – annoyingly in the way, should I feel like ending it all – the itching spread upwards to my elbow, sideways around until it met itself at the back, and outwards for several inches. You know that feeling? It was like the air around my forearm was itchy.

I had to visit the pharmacy later anyway, so I asked for some ideas. The only thing they had that I hadn’t tried though was Eurax, the anti-itch cream. This proved… absolutely ineffective. Nothing was working, and I was now in no-scratch hell. There was only one thing to do. Something I should have tried a lot sooner.

I think I learned this years ago, when I had an attack of orf. Orf is a virus you can only get from a sheep bite. It’s a long story. Even if I leave out the acid trip, it’s still a long story.

A sink full of water as hot as I could bear it. Immersed entire forearm, kept it there a while. Then ran cold water over the effected area. I did that just once. It’s been a couple of hours. The itching hasn’t returned. I recommend this method.